Recent reports about the Guantánamo Bay military prison have documented and confirmed the torture of detainees, and offered new insight into the wobbly legality of military commissions.
Scores of prisoners remain there and according to a Seton Hall report an elaborate system has been installed to eavesdrop on attorneys meeting with the prisoners, thereby undermining the legitimacy of the military tribunals. The Constitution Project also released an exhaustive report confirming what has been known for years – that torture of prisoners did occur at Guantánamo. Many of the prisoners are on hunger strikes, they see no escape from a place where they are being indefinitely held. “The situation is desperate now,” prisoner Samir Najl al Hasan Moqbel wrote in a recent column for The New York Times.
Today, President Obama, during a White House news briefing, said he still would like to see Gitmo shuttered. Obama promised to close the prison during his first term, but failed. Some reporting said the administration did not have much of a strategy in place for closing the prison.
Obama said, “I continue to believe that we need to close Guantánamo. I think it is critical for us to understand that Guantánamo is not necessary to keep us safe. It is expensive, it is inefficient, it hurts us in terms of our international standing, it lessens cooperation with our allies on counterterrorism efforts, it is a recruitment tool for extremists. It needs to be closed,” The Huffington Post’s Ryan J. Reilly reports.
He continued, “The notion that we’re going to continue to keep over 100 individuals in a no-man’s land in perpetuity – even at a time when we’ve wound down the war in Iraq, we’re winding down the war in Afghanistan, we’re having success defeating al Qaeda, we’ve kept pressure up on all these transnational terrorist networks, when we’ve transferred detention authority to Afghanistan – the idea that we would still maintain, forever, a group of individuals who have not been tried, that is contrary to who we are, it’s contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights, which has long represented some of the prisoners, lauded Obama’s comments, but noted the president should not place the entire onus on Congress to close the prison.
For instance, CCR said that Obama “still has the power to transfer the men right now. He should use the certification/waiver process created by Congress to transfer detainees with the 86 men who have been cleared for release, including our client Djamel Ameziane.”
The release by WikiLeaks of some 250,000 previously confidential diplomatic cables has raised new questions about First Amendment protection for WikiLeaks, and for those media outlets that publish information they obtain from WikiLeaks, or other similar sources.
During a recent ACS event, experts provided some helpful First Amendment perspective on the WikiLeaks phenomenon, including how First Amendment protection of sensitive information has developed and what place shield laws that protect anonymous sources have in this discussion.
Moderator Adam Liptak, Supreme Court correspondent for The New York Times, and a former lawyer for the newspaper, framed the discussion in saying:
The great democratization of information on the Internet, notably in the form of WikiLeaks, means there is no responsible party to negotiate with on the other side. For better or worse, we [The New York Times] held back on the warrantless wiretapping story, in part because we consulted with, and were persuaded by, things the government was telling us. We may have made the wrong decision, but it wasn't for want of trying to get it right, trying to strike the balance correctly. That doesn't seem to be the case in many quarters on the Internet today. So, we live in a new world.
ACS has compiled some of the most relevant comments in a WikiLeaks highlights video below. Watch the full discussion on the interplay between national security and government transparency here, including a keynote address by White House Open Government Initiative Director and U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer Beth Noveck.
Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, discussed the promises and shortfalls of the current administration's Open Government Initiative with ACSblog following an ACS event on the interplay between national security, government transparency and the First Amendment.
Sloan highlights persistent obstacles to government transparency, ranging from limited resources for FOIA officers to political resistance. Responding particularly to keynote speaker Beth Noveck's comments (available here), she stresses the importance of strengthening the FOIA process:
"The administration recognizes there are problems with the FOIA and it's up to them to fix it. We don't go around the one real piece of legislation that authorizes citizens to get information from the government. This is the way citizens should go about getting information and the administration needs to make sure that mechanism works."
Following her participation as a panelist at the recent ACS symposium on national security and human rights issues, Hope Metcalf talked with ACSblog about military detention center at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, calling it "essentially a redux of Guantánamo as it was in 2004." Metcalf, a lecturer and project director of the National Litigation Project of the Lowenstein International Human Rights Clinic at Yale Law School, said that "Bagram is still a black box - we know very little and the detainees receive very, very little in terms of process, they receive no access to lawyers, no judicial review of any kind ...." A recent editorial in The New York Times maintained that the current administration faces serious challenges "in bringing" the Bagram military detention camp "squarely within the rule of law and fundamental notions of fairness." Watch Metcalf's interview below or download a video podcast here. Video of the ACS symposium on national security and human rights issues is available here.
Following his keynote address at yesterday's ACS symposium on national security and human rights, Assistant Attorney General for National Security David S. Kris talked with ACSblog about the Obama administration's approach to issues surrounding efforts to combat terrorism. Kris said, "We're taking a pragmatic approach to find the best solution to national security threats consistent with protection of civil liberties and the rule of law. And we're trying to avoid too many abstract front-end rules that limit our options here." Kris also noted that the president "supports reformed military commissions." Watch the entire interview below or download a podcast of it here. Video of the ACS symposium is available here.